A multi-dimensional tool

At the tail end of 2013 I picked up the telephone; the person on the other end was from BIFM (British Institute of Facilities Management) and they were asking me to lead on their work on Building Information Modelling (BIM) and its sibling ‘Soft Landings’.
Like many, I had been passively aware of BIM/Soft Landings for some time, having encountered them on a couple of projects, but was yet to see the full impact in action – a situation that I suspect will be familiar to many of us that are involved in the facilities management (operational) side of things.
A few months on, a lot of research and a couple of conferences later, I am not sure that things are much clearer. It all sounds so simple and logical. ‘BIM’ is the process of Building Information Modelling and is the action or creation and maintenance of a database of information relating to a building. ‘Soft Landings’ is the process for a graduated handover of a new or refurbished building. When written down it seems odd that there is still confusion or hesitancy around both.
From my perspective this is where the confusions, and perhaps cynicism, starts to come into play. As you can see from the above definitions both BIM and Soft Landings are, in reality, processes and not software systems as seems to be the common default assumption, in respect of BIM at least, where I suspect that we have all been seduced at one time or another by those snazzy 3D walk-through visualisations.

Big data
The misconceptions don’t stop there. Many see BIM and Soft Landings as being inextricably linked. My opinion is that they’re definitely not, but it makes sense for them to be considered together. Both are processes which we as practicing facilities managers should recognise the potential value of in our day-to-day working lives – although my suspicion is that Soft Landings is going to come out as the biggest winner insofar as facilities managers are concerned.

Furthermore, like many other professions, we too are wrestling with ‘big data’. For us the data about our buildings derived from BIM systems. There is always excitement when systems allow us to process and analyse masses of data but, as other professions have found, this needs to be usable on a regular day-to-day basis. Once we have derived the information needed to develop the asset register, etc. (i.e. the information we need for daily operational purposes) do we need to refer to the BIM system again? Certainly when there is need for a major refurbishment or fit-out when we might need to know about duct runs, cable routes and the like. With this comes the danger that separate data sets are not working together and therefore one, over time, becomes defunct. This poses the question as to whether there is a need for a ‘BIM-Lite’ module, one that can be accessed easily and is therefore useful on a practical level more regularly.

On the subject of data, the inter-changeability between different projects for the purpose benchmarking and the like is often quoted as one of the key benefits of implementing BIM/Soft Landings. Certainly it is something that I think we should all do much more of, but for this to happen on a like-for-like basis, without the need for potentially extensive data manipulation, then there needs to be a common classification system or data protocol in place. Unfortunately we’re not there yet with many of the BIM systems being based around something called Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie) – but there are other classifications in existence, for example, Uniclass.
Without a standard classification system, how do we know that all the data has been captured in the same way? Fortunately this has been recognised and the BIM Task Group has initiated a research-based study aimed at developing a standard classification methodology that encompasses both buildings and infrastructure.
Specific challenges aside, there are also the typical hurdles to overcome when you are trying to make a change to the way people work and the tools they use such as language and communication. Over complicate it and you risk people not adopting it as part of every-day operational process and procedure. Also, the need for collaboration is implicit in both the BIM and Soft Landings processes across the entire supply chain from design through construction and operation to the end-user. We have long sought a more collaborative approach but again, if we’re talking different ‘languages’, then we’ll always find this difficult.

In summary, is BIM and Soft Landings something that is going to have a positive impact on our day-to-day lives in the long term? I think so. The potential benefits are well documented and when you look at the processes written down they make an awful lot of sense.
However, with any change there are going to be challenges along the way to ensure adoption. The areas outlined above need addressing if we’re going to see BIM in its best light. We are still in the early stages and there has already been a lot learnt, and there be more lessons moving forward.
Done correctly we can see that both these processes implemented as intended have the potential to service FM for the good but there is a long road ahead of us and I suspect there will be a couple of bumps along the way.

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